FEW months after President Muhammadu Buhari received the baton for a second tenure in office, he ordered the closure of all land borders across the nation. The motive behind this was ostensibly to boost local production of food for sustainable food security in Nigeria. Another cogent reason adduced for the action was that the policy would stop the culture of reliance on foreign foods and other products, which the country undoubtedly has the capacity to grow locally. In actual fact, there was no policy that had been formulated since the advent of democracy that touched every stratum of the Nigerian society like the border closure policy. Few days after the nationwide announcement, the price of rice, renowned to be Nigerians’ staple food, soared astronomically. A bag of foreign rice that was sold for between N13000 to N15000 meteorically rose to as high as N 25000. Even the local brand is gradually going beyond the reach of the few middle class citizens, let alone the downtrodden masses.
To underscore the premium preference Nigerians placed on rice, available statistics revealed that the citizens of this country consume three million metric tons of rice daily. Most disturbing was the fact that more than 2.5 metric tons are imported with the rest being grown locally. This prompted the government to take the action to increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and make the country to be self-dependent in food production. Nigerians had, however, received the policy with mixed feelings. While some applauded the action; some viewed it from a different prism and branded it as anti-people. In a developing nation like Nigeria, any policy that increased prices of food and related consumables is widely condemned and this accounted for the wide outrage that greeted the sudden action. There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria has lots of benefits to derive from this border closure policy and that President Buhari meant well for the economy for mulling such idea. Part of the gains derivable from the policy includes: increased food production locally, job creation through effective rice value chain that will attract investors and the expected increase in the country’s GDP, which will in turn strengthen the Nigerian currency at the global market. It is heart-warming to hear from the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Godwin Emefiele, that the naira has improved and garnered more strength compared to the alternative or parallel market.
Less than a week ago, the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), retired Col. Hameed Ali, revealed that the country has been raking in humongous sum of N34 billion daily through the policy. Even now that the reality has dawned on every Nigerian that reliance on foreign food is no longer profitable to the citizens and economy, the Federal Government seems determined to give financial assistance to local farmers for rice production that could support consumption. With this, our local brands: Igbemo Rice, Kebbi Rice, Gboko, Abakaliki and others can be developed for local consumption and for exportation. It is disheartening to learn that Benin Republic with a population of less than 20 million is now one of the largest exporters of rice, leaving Nigeria with a population of about 200 million behind. This does not portray us as a serious-minded nation.
The problem with the Nigerian government has always been that there is a wide gap between the leaders and the governed. Our leaders take some good steps that are always being misinterpreted to mean despotism and tyranny, even when that is not the case. This actually reflected in the land border policy. It came to the citizens suddenly like a parachute. The Federal Government that conceptualised the policy failed to tutor the public through effective communication, campaign and sensitisation on the gains inherent in the policy. It would have taken time to educate the people on the short, middle and long terms’ gains and pains, so that the citizens could have prepared well for it, rather than that Gestapo-like approach. An American writer and business man, Alvin Toffler, said: “The illiterates of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. Nigerian leaders need a lot to learn from the mistakes of the past, ditto all citizens. The time has come for all of us to perceive the building of a competitive, strong, virile and prosperous economy as a collective responsibility. To actualise this uphill task, we should all be prepared to bear the pains to be able to savour the gains later.
- Aluko is assistant principal, Ikere High School, Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State.